One Warrior rises amid slide
No doubt, John Estes has spent his football career overcoming doubts.
“That’s the story of my life,” said Estes, who is coaching Hawaii’s offensive line. “I wasn’t even one of the top five senior prospects on my own high school football team. I came here (to UH as an offensive lineman) … and nobody thought anything of me until the pads came on. Same thing at the next level. They used to think I got lucky when I was doing so well. But I think being the smallest guy (6 feet 2) at my position in the (NFL), I had to survive on technique, inside hands and smarts. That was one (reason) they kept me around, because I could protect the quarterback.”
Last year, he joined the Rainbow Warriors as a graduate assistant helping offensive line coach Chris Naeole. After Naeole resigned last week, Estes and offensive coordinator Brian Smith took over the offensive line.
For this week’s homecoming game against San Jose State, Estes, who was in the coaches’ booth for last Saturday’s game against Nevada, will be coaching on the sideline.
“I would like to be closer to (the players) during the game because I feel like some of the extra-curricular acts would not be allowed or tolerated by me,” Estes said. “We’re not there to show up the refs, because when you show up the refs, they’ll get you back in the end.”
Smith, who will call the offensive plays from the booth, praised Estes’ work.
“John is doing really well,” Smith said. “He was doing great for us before all this happened. (The expanded role) just added more responsibilities to him. He’s taking it in stride. I think he’s very well prepared. He has good relationships with that group of players. We’re happy with the job he’s doing right now.”
For now, Estes will retain his status as a graduate assistant, which will allow him to continue taking classes.
“The master’s (degree) is important to John,” head coach Nick Rolovich said. “He’s voiced that to me. This is an opportunity for him not only to continue his education (but) to see if he wants to jump into the coaching world.”
Smith said: “There’s not a lot of guys in their first few years of coaching who get to run their own meetings, like he’s doing, handle individual (sessions) on their own, and plan their own drills. He’s really getting a great experience through this whole process.”
Estes said he draws from several role models — his brother Patrick; his father Ronald, who was a school superintendent for 20 years; uncle Rockne Freitas, a former NFL lineman and UH administrator, and his coaches at UH and the NFL. Andy Heck, who was the Jacksonville Jaguars’ offensive line coach, taught Estes and Naeole.
“It was an easy transition for me to walk into that (offensive line) room last year because me and coach Naeole spoke the same language,” Estes said. “It was seamless.”
Right guard J.R. Hensley said: “I’ve been preaching this and I’ll say it again and again: We respect the heck out of Coach Estes. We’re going to rally around him no matter what. Every day, we’re going to show up with our work boots on because we love that man. He’s been with us since the beginning. He’s going to do what’s best for us. He played O-line here at UH. He’s consistent every day. He’s very knowledgeable. It’s pretty easy rallying around him.”
Estes offered encouragement to the line.
“I come to work excited to teach a group that is blocking for the third-leading rusher (Diocemy Saint Juste) in the country,” Estes said. “That’s something to be proud of. I told the guys, that’s something to hang your hat on. Not everyone can do that.”